John Armstrong's opinion: Ross dumping confidential National Party information into public arena is the stuff of nightmares for Bridges

Let’s get one thing very clear right from the very start. Rarely, if ever, has New Zealand politics witnessed treachery, disloyalty and deceitfulness on such a gross scale as that currently being displayed by Jami-Lee Ross.

His behaviour is gross in every meaning of that word — not just in size, but also in vulgarity and repulsiveness. Not for nothing is Ross being nicknamed "Jihadi Jami". He is now New Zealand politics equivalent of the suicide bomber and creating mayhem wherever he goes.

There will be many whose dislike of Simon Bridges is of such humongous proportions that they will blinker themselves to the manifest unacceptability of the behaviour exhibited by Ross and instead praise him for dishing the dirt on National’s leader.

Let's be clear again. Ross is no hero. The plain fact of the matter is that the conduct of politics in any useful fashion would grind to a halt were every MP in Parliament likewise to betray the confidences of colleagues and expose information confidential to their party to public glare without having the authorisation to do so.

That has been amply illustrated by Ross' actions which have resulted in Bridges' less than complimentary opinions of the competence of one of his MPs entering the public domain, along with oblique suggestions that it was time others retired.

This is the stuff of nightmares for any leader. Bridges' fate may yet hinge on the E Factor. He might end up drowning in embarrassment. And the embarrassment is piling up rapidly — not least on something all parties are loath to discuss.

You might argue that Ross, the now ex-National MP and soon-to-be former MP for Botany, is doing voters a favour by shedding light on the murky business of political parties and their hiding of the big-money donors to their coffers such that he deserves to be exempted from the rules and norms that apply to everyone else.

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    On October 16, the now-independent MP made allegations against Mr Bridges, who in turn denied all claims. Source: 1 NEWS

    That might be justified were Ross crusading for far greater transparency in the handling of donations. But he isn’t. He is seeking to destroy Bridges. His talk of secret tapes and private dinners with Chinese business figures is the stuff of conspiracy theorists.

    Yet having alleged Bridges is corrupt and that he possessed evidence sufficiently strong for him to hand it to the police so they could open an inquiry into the matter, it turns out the tape does no such thing.

    Coming in the wake of Ross' protestations of innocence in the leaking of Bridges' travel expenses even though the investigation carried out by PwC at Bridges' behest left no doubt that Ross was the culprit, the question of how much trust can be put in what the latter has to say suddenly become very germane. Likewise the words "fizzer" and "damp squib".

    That is of little consolation to Bridges. Mud sticks. And while Ross was gone from National’s caucus before lunchtime on Tuesday, he has invited himself back as a most unwelcome guest for breakfast, lunch and dinner by forcing a by-election — a ballot which he intends turning into a referendum on Bridges’ leadership of National.

    The problem confronting the latter is one no leader has faced to anywhere near the same extent.

    Quite simply, Ross has torn up the informal rules which politicians follow when they prematurely exiting the party which provided them with their ticket into Parliament in the first instance.

    As far as Ross is concerned, notions such as loyalty to the party and former colleagues, if not to the leader, count for absolutely nothing.

    Such is the overpowering nature of his obsession with destroying Bridges that Ross no longer cares about what he says or does as long as it helps him secure that goal.

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      Mr Ross released a recording of a phone call this after afternoon between himself and Mr Bridges. Source: 1 NEWS

      He has made it very clear that nothing is off limits.

      That leaves Bridges with nothing he can use as leverage to bring the destructive behaviour of his one-time friend to a halt.

      The puzzle is why someone who has made it into his party’s front bench should feel so aggrieved at the person who promoted him to that status.

      Sure, Ross might have persuaded himself that he was deserving of greater reward for serving as Bridges' number's man in February’s leadership ballot.

      But that ought not to have required Rose to sacrifice his own political career simply to make that point.

      The reasons why Ross was harbouring a grudge such as to prompt him into leaking the details of Bridges' travel expenses are of little more than academic interest now, however.

      He and Bridges are now engaged in a battle as bitter as any in the history of New Zealand’s Parliament.

      Ross' expulsion from National's caucus was cue for what was without question one of the most brutal, spiteful and disloyal diatribes ever heard within the precincts of Parliament.

      He might have sounded calm and collected. He might have sounded like he was in control. He was in fact out of control.

      His behaviour is deeply worrying. If nothing else, it is to be hoped he is getting the help and advice in the wake of the nervous breakdown which he has not sought to hide — and that he is listening to that advice. Unfortunately, it is pretty obvious that if he is getting that advice, he is not heeding it.

      Another headache for Bridges is that determining how much truth there is to the various allegations that Ross has levelled at Bridges —be it breaching the law on electoral donations or accusations that the concocted suggestions that he had harassed several women — is going to take time.

      Such has been the vigour of Bridges' denials of illegal or unacceptable behaviour on his part that if some truth is found in Ross' accusations then Bridges will have to resign. It will be simple as that.

      There is already strong reason to question the likely veracity of the allegations, however.

      The refusal by Ross to acknowledge his guilt in the leaking of Bridges’ travel expenses leaves open the question of whether Ross has lost touch with reality and is now lost in a fantasy world of his own making.

      Ross might similarly have fooled himself into believing he has a chance of winning the by-election he has prompted There is no chance of that happening. The measure of his success will be the degree to which he can cut National’s majority to such an extent that the figures provide concrete evidence that National has no chance of victory in the 2020 General Election with Bridges at the helm.

      As a senior MP, Ross was privy to the findings of the private opinion polls which National regularly conducts. His going public with detail of Bridges’ ever more dismal favourability rating may turn out to be as damaging as his other allegations.

      Those who think the current turmoil in National’s could work to Bridges’ advantage if he seizes the opportunity to display strong leadership will only be kidding themselves.

      Of only slightly lesser concern for Bridges is that Ross continues to make allegations in such number that they become a deadweight severely limiting his ability to function effectively as leader.

      The question is whether Bridges' nemesis has already fired his best shots. That may be the case. But Bridges cannot be certain that is so.